BOSTON (CBS) – Nearly 8,000 people in Massachusetts are avoiding lockup by being on house arrest with electronic monitoring instead. But the I-Team found that every year, dozens of them go missing. Some are found right away. Others go off-the-grid long enough to commit horrific crimes.
On Page Boulevard in Springfield, some neighbors say they’re sickened by the fact that the home where serial murder suspect Stewart Weldon lived is now up for sale.
“These women, you know, were brutally murdered, and it’s a scary thing to think about,” said Lisa Zarcone, who would rather see it demolished.
When Weldon cut off his GPS ankle bracelet last year, he went undetected for more than three months.
“If he could do it, somebody else could do it,” said Tonya McFall, who lives right next door. “Look how many things he was able to do in that timeline.”
The remains of three murdered women later showed up on the property.
“If you cut off your GPS device, it’s a misdemeanor,” said Governor Charlie Baker, who wants to raise the stakes. His proposed dangerousness bill would change the crime to a felony.
Bernardston Police Chief James Palmeri hopes it would be a deterrent. “I definitely think it should happen. I think they should be held to a higher cost,” he said.
This spring, his rural community was trapped in the grip of fear for four long days. A suspect named Tony Candello, who has a long rap sheet, cut off his monitoring bracelet in the woods behind his home.
“I was worried about how desperate he’d get and what he would eventually do,” Palmeri said.
Police locked down houses and schools, searching endless woods with dogs, helicopters and drones. Police eventually found him holed up in a shed.
“People were upset because it’s the unknown,” Palmeri said.
An I-Team investigation found Massachusetts Probation Services reported 477 “tamper alerts” last year. Of those, 124 were confirmed to be ankle bracelets that were cut off. While a probation spokesperson said that’s just a little more than 1.5% of the total population on house arrest, the numbers have Gov. Baker alarmed.
“Taking off a GPS device happens with a fair amount of frequency,” he said.
Sixty-eight-year-old Janet Murphy-Hebert was killed in a crash in March. Her son, who was in the passenger seat next to her, is recovering from serious injuries. Police said James Bennett-Werra, a suspect with a history of violence who also goes by the name Jennifer, cut off a GPS ankle bracelet and slammed into the New Bedford mother’s car.
“Everybody says after it’s over, why was that person out? Why wasn’t that person being held?” said Gov. Baker.
Along with making it a felony to remove a GPS bracelet, his proposed legislation would give judges more leeway to keep criminals with especially dangerous records locked up, instead of risking escape. It’s now before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.